When we covered Anime Expo back in 2010, we noted that characters from a new series called Durarara!!, then only available in the U.S. through Crunchyroll, were amongst the most memorable cosplays of the convention. We saw numerous female figures clad in black catsuits and yellow and blue motorcycle helmets, oftentimes accompanied by a blonde, male character wearing the sort of tuxedo that you would associate with a high-end bar or restaurant employee. There were people walking with street signs, one young man even wheeled around a vending machine. The cosplayers made enough of an impact on us that we immediately began watching the show.
One year later, Durarara!! has become a bona fide hit with the anime crowd. The show, which currently airs on Adult Swim Saturday nights as an English-language dub, is a testament as to how convention-going anime fans can help push their favorite shows to the next level.
“We saw the huge popularity among the fan community,” says Yosuke Kodaka, Manager of Licensing at Aniplex, the company that released Durarara!! both in Japan and the U.S. “We decided to make a dub and we worked hard to get it on Adult Swim and we finally did it.”
Kodaka notes that Durarara!! wasn't an immediate hit, though, even in Japan. He said that it wasn't until “maybe episode three or four” that the series began to amass a large following.
Based on a series of light novels by Ryohgo Narita, Durarara!! seems to have everything necessary for a successful anime release in the U.S. It's a modern action series with comedic elements. There are nods to the anime and manga fandom in the series, but you don't need to be a hardcore anime fan to understand it. And there are a lot of quirky characters, a headless woman on a motorcycle, a short-tempered man in a bartender's tuxedo, a duo of ardent manga fans and a high school student who comes to Tokyo looking for excitement, just to name a few.
Hiroe Tsukamoto, Vice President, Production of Aniplex, says that she thinks it's the characters that are attracting fans to the series.
“There's no a main character, there are multiple main characters and each is important,” she says. “Everybody can find some similarity to certain characters.”
On July 3, Aniplex hosted a Durarara!! panel at Anime Expo moderated by Tsukamoto. It was a fan-oriented panel, rather than a news-oriented one. Segments of the session included Top 5 Durarara!! scenes, according to fans' votes and “Please Say That Line!” where the English-language voice cast repeated lines from the series selected by Durarara!!'s Facebook fans.
When the cast– including big names in the voice acting world like Yuri Lowenthal (Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto, Simon from Gurren Lagann), Patrick Seitz (Germany from Hetalia) and Crispin Freeman (Alucard from Hellsing, Togusa from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)– arrived on stage, Petree Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center was filled with screams. (Don't believe us? Watch footage from the panel on YouTube, especially the proposals segment.)
Despite the fact that Durarara!! was growing in popularity before a dub was even announced, the reputation of the members of the English voice cast certainly has helped push the series a little further.
“There are fans for them, each of the voice actors, already,” says Tsukamoto, “so that helped promote the show.”
Kodaka says the fan reaction in the U.S. is quite similar to that in Japan.
“What we saw yesterday was quite a similar phenomenon where the fans were screaming for the voice cast,” he says. “In Japan, the fans were also screaming for the voice cast, so it's kind of similar.”
Durarara!! is still in its infancy on cable television, having only made its debut on Adult Swim the week before Anime Expo. With that in mind, it's probably a little early what kind of impact the show will have in the long run, but, if the convention crowd is any indication, Durarara!! might just become one of the most memorable series of this decade.
Follow @lizohanesian and @ShannonCottrell on Twitter.